Limitless - or limiting?

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Limitless season 1!

Ah, Limitless. That show that I started to watch because the film had such a good premise (and execution). That show that developed into a screwball comedy \ detective mystery \ personality exploration \ reason for feeling better about your Tuesday night.

For those of you just joining us, the TV show begins a little while after the movie (of the same name) ended. Bradley Cooper’s character is still on his NZT pills (that unlock pretty much most of the brain, giving you instant access to all your memories, your random thoughts, your ability to put things together in a big picture, etc.). He’s now a Senator and running for President of the US. However, the new main character, poor wee Brian Finch, is a down-and-out, can’t-really-get-his-band-together bloke whose parents just want him to become something.

Cue a little accident with NZT pills and Brian experiences his entire brain for twelve hours. Of course the come-down afterwards is not as nice, but seeing as Senator Mora (Cooper) turns up and gives Brian a shot to stave off the withdrawal symptoms, things are looking up. Except the FBI want Brian to work with them, seeing as he’s the ‘only person who is naturally immune to the side-effects of NZT’. Brian can’t come clean to anyone, since Senator Mora has arranged, by virtue of his Vinnie Jones-like ‘assistant’ Colin Salmon (well cast, by the way), to make Brian’s poor dad all better again. A kidney transplant and a free live-in nurse later, and Brian realises he’s stuck. He has to do as he’s told - work with the FBI and prevent them from working out that Mora is controlling his own supply of NZT - as well as immunity shots.

What this crafty back story gives the writing team of the show is this: as many whacked-out ways for Brian to use his suddenly brilliant brain to solve ‘crimes’ as he can. This could have been left to meander as a simple police procedural with yet another ‘cool’ twist on it. However, the show is turning out to be something quite different. Where the film had Mora actually sitting down and writing the novel he’d always wanted, leaving you to wonder if he had changed due to his exposure to the drug, the TV show has Brian being more Brian than he had ever Brian’d before. He’s obviously fun-loving, likes his bong, music, and just chilling and not really offending anyone ever because that’s like rude, right? And it’s clearly a waste of time and energy that could be put to listening to some really cool music or doing something else just as fun. From the pilot episode we see the gleeful, childlike (not childish) side to Brian, and while he does have some trouble with other parts of himself taking on other personas (the Marlon Brando rebel was a good choice) and trying to argue cases with Fun!Brian, he largely keeps it together. This seems to be a testament to his will and ‘speaks to his character’, as my mate would say.

What the show does is provide crimes almost as a back-drop for his problems, instead of focusing on the actual crime as a reason for the show. And the crime of the week isn’t always a crime of the week; even when it is, it swiftly develops into something that is much bigger than it seemed at the initial outset. Take for example a massive manhunt that a famous profiler had been working on for years. This episode could have been about how Brian gradually realises who the murderer is and how to find \ get him arrested. But the writers are smarter than that - after they’ve spent the episode teaser building up how difficult a case this will be for everyone concerned, they have Brian solve it in a few minutes using the case notes and Google. What that kicks off is a much more elaborate tale, and in the process, leads to a very tense period between commercial breaks as Brian must race to protect Senator Mora’s secret whilst still working on the case at hand - and without arousing suspicion.

This show has made me laugh out loud - quite a few times - and marvel at Brian’s energy and happiness. He feels like a very harmless, very clean person - and by that I mean there’s no baggage to his life. He’s not yet another gritty, acerbic detective with a failed marriage or two and a shitty existence, who is only still working for the police because otherwise he’d be getting arrested for the kind of crap he gets up to at work. Yes, he’s worried about what happens when the FBI eventually find out why he’s ‘immune’ to the side-effects of NZT, but at the same time he’s stoked he’s helping people by catching ‘bad guys’ and using NZT to do all the cool things he can think of. And he is seeing and doing incredible things - all the time.

Which brings us to tonight’s episode - number thirteen (of season one, allowing for Time Travel Tuesday and you lot reading this long after January 2016). We have a serial rapist, murderer, and all-around evil bastard. But Brian’s subconscious (which has manifested itself in many varied and wonderful ways throughout the series so far) balks at the horrendous crime scene that he’s confronted with. A naked dead woman tied up and covered in blood, one finger cut off, obviously having struggled and fought for life - there’s something in Brian that can’t look at these things, can’t process a scene so ugly and horrific. So his subconscious (a dinosaur, no less) decides that words like ‘rapist’ and ‘murderer’ are replaced with happy euphemisms. Rewind the scene and now the other FBI agents are talking about how the poor woman was the result of a cowboys-and-indians game, how she was hugged so hard she went off to play on that awesome farm out in the sunshine. This continues for the entire episode - and as Brian is in the scene, we hear the euphemisms used by everyone he comes into contact with.

During the episode it’s hilarious - people saying things like ‘she was tied up and tickled until she couldn’t laugh any more’ with absolutely straight faces, the kind of expression you could use to win at poker, as if they're all trying to hard to get that Golden Globe. But once you’ve switched off the TV and tidied up your dinner plates etc., you’re left with an uneasy feeling. What the writers have done is inadvertently (one would hope) taken the details of several women having been murdered in the worst way, and given it a happy spin to make it almost light, fluffy - not serious. Sure, people don’t want that level of horror from something as happy and daffy as ‘Limitless’ - but why sugar-coat it in that way? Why use these crimes at all if you’re not going to treat them with dignity and respect? (I’m sure there are other high level crimes an FBI agent would follow.) A ‘serial hugger’ is not the way I want to hear myself referring to these people - not when ‘hug’ is used to replace ‘rape’. Yes, for the purpose of the episode I did find it amusing - and yes, the perpetrator was found and convicted. But where was the satisfaction at having done a good job and stopped more women from being victims of the same crime? The episode chose instead to focus on how Brian skilfully avoided being corralled by a guest star into collaborating with him to corner a huge book deal. Normally Brian is much more relieved that more people aren’t going to get hurt. But this time? Not really a mention.

He had a lot going on, this episode. But I still think a little moment to think about the victims - even a throw-away line such as ‘it’s terrible I couldn’t have solved this thing before the second victim’, or ‘at least now he can’t do this again’. But nothing.

Still - the episode did its job. The writers did theirs; they produced a nasty string of crimes and managed to make them more palatable to a dinner-time audience in a fun, light-hearted way that still managed to show - through Rebecca, the real FBI agent - how horrible life can be if you choose to let it.

Maybe that was the real message: Brian solved the crimes, had the correct bad guy arrested, went through all of the evidence even though it was personally harrowing. He did it by choosing to shape his own reality, by doing something as simple as calling something a different name, or seeing it in a different light. It didn’t stop him feeling the horror of it, but it kept him from getting bogged down in evil (something that shows like The Following have failed to do at times) and helped him get it done faster and cleaner. So was it really a bad thing that his subconscious ‘made light’ of the rapes and murders? (And was that what he was really doing? After all, he recognised and felt how awful the crimes were but couldn’t process that level of evil. He understood all too well how serious they were - but he couldn’t face it.) If this approach got the crimes solved faster before the bad guy could strike again, wasn’t it helping, rather than simply reducing the documented crimes to jokey descriptions about playing air guitar and names of ice cream flavours?

I’ve done it again. I’ve made a mountain out of a molehill. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the episode, and now that I’ve had a chance to think it through, I don’t feel uneasy at all. Brian’s defence mechanism kicked in and helped him solve the heinous crimes. And that’s all there is to it. Perhaps I should do this more in my own life.

On a side note, I can’t wait for next week’s episode.

2016? Meh

Remember the last time you went bungee jumping? You were younger then, you did things for a laugh, you had no qualms at all about doing something so far out of your comfort zone it should have scared the pants off you. Oh - you don’t remember bungee jumping? Because you never actually did it? Maybe you wanted to, maybe you thought about it, maybe you were even in with a chance of getting on the plane once - but you never got to jump.

Hold that thought.

Swap bungee jumping for being ‘in love’ with someone. Swap signing up for the chance to try ‘dating’. Now put me there instead of you.

I haven’t ‘dated’ anyone this century. There were a few - a very tiny number - of close encounters that didn’t last longer than an evening. But after the last one, I realised I had absolutely no interest in the game whatsoever.

Friends don’t pressure me. When I say “I’m happy by myself”, they accept it and move on. It’s great, actually. But am I? I mean I think I am - when I think it through, the whole going-on-a-date thing and the whole charade of what is basically interviewing people with a view to occupying the position of new-best-friend-whom-I-also-shag, I just feel tired. I don’t like it. I haven’t done it in over fifteen years. It’s not in my wheel house. It’s not something I know anything about, or in fact care for.

So why do I feel like I should? Like perhaps I’m missing something? Is it like discovering a show you never knew existed - but once you see it, you have to watch the entire show, and it becomes a constant cult thing in your head, your life? It’s so good that once you’ve given the finale six months, you have to watch all the seasons all over again? And then you introduce it to your friends, and your family, and it gets to live with you on your shelf next to all the other blu rays? It’s like that, right?

Fucked if I know.

I think I’m just a little bit bored with my life right now. Work is slowly driving me insane with its soul-destroyingly predictable routine (not the actual day to day routine, but the drama that happens because of situations that are left to develop). I’m seeing patterns in shows and whilst I watch them anyway, I’m also checking tumblr on my phone. I can’t seem to write anything, even though I’ve had two really stunning ideas in the last twelve months. Why is this?

Inspiration. I just want to be inspired.

Sadly, everything is lacking. I’m in the throes of searching for alternative employment. I’ve changed hairdressers’ (and therefore my nail technician). I’ve gone through the sales and bought new workwear. I’ve been through all my old works and archived them, cleaned them off the virtual shelves, blown away the dust.

It’s not working.

I had an absolute belter of a Christmas and New Year. Three epic nights out over a week, and more fun than I could shake a stick at. It made me look at the rest of my winter and think “bloody hell, I’ve really let things slide”. Not in terms of me, or myself. But in terms of what my life used to be like when I lived in The Bright Centre of the Universe, as opposed to now, when I’m living on the If There’s A Bright Centre of the Universe, Then You’re On The Planet That It’s Furthest From. Yes, I know, I bang on about my old life abroad all the time on this blog. Yes, I get depressed thinking about what I’d be doing now if things had gone differently and I was still over there, having got the job I applied for. But why waste all that time and effort?

I haven’t been to archery in over six months. Mostly because I can’t get out of work on time. And it’s not like I can down tools and leave, not with the job we do. If I don’t finish something, it gets dumped on the person next to me to solve, causing them to leave even later. And so it goes.

Maybe that’s what’s grinding me down; I can’t take charge. I can’t do what I can clearly see needs to be done to get things moving. It’s holding me back. And I’m itching to go to two potential interviews for positions with better prospects. But again, I have to wait. And hope.

Then there’s writing. The total number of agents who have knocked me back so far (for one novel alone) is fifteen. The next wave of letters and submissions goes out when the Gollancz Publishing submission window has closed - as I’ve just sent it off to them for their kind rejection. That’ll be about March, and then the next salvo goes out and I start the wishing-and-hoping cycle all over again. But at least I’m doing something.

Boredom. That’s what it is. That’s what makes me open a beer when I get home, because it makes everything a little more amusing and it takes my mind off the banality of life. I keep the vodka for weekends. It’s more fun that way.

I still watch films and TV. I still read comics. I still people-watch as I’m walking to work. I just can’t seem to find anything on this planet that generates any excitement.

I just want something new, something I don’t know inside and out. Is that too much to ask?

Frumentum Ex Spatio

Yup, here I am again with another story. In between getting rejection letters from agents for my sci-fi book, I'm posting these stories to convince myself that it's all about the telling, not about the making an official career out of it. Funny thing is, I've wanted to do an X-Files story for about... twenty years.

Anywyay, here's my latest:

Title: Frumentum Ex Spatio

Rating: Rated T \ Teen and Up for blood and gore.

Mulder and Scully are sent to Louisiana to help a local agent investigate alleged animal attacks. He wants proof, she wants everyone to live to tell the tale, and the local agent wants… Well, that’s the real story, isn’t it? Flashlights, government-issue Glocks, a-walking in the woods, bodily damage and hurt\comfort. A little MSR\Sculder for those into gratuitous fanservice.

I do not own The X Files or any of the characters. This is all for fun, not for profit. Unless you add me to any favourites lists or leave comments. Then I profit in the knowledge that someone thinks it’s pretty good.

Characters: Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, a little Walter Skinner, and an OC or few.

Linky-link-link: HERE at An Archive of Our Own under my name TozaBoma (because they don’t re-edit your stuff later) and HERE at Fanfiction dot net under my name Mardy Lass.

If you even visit the page, I thank you.

In Plain Sight - a Daredevil fic

Actually done some more writing. I’m still working on getting my own novel published, but since that’s going slower than an asthmatic ant carrying heavy shopping, this is tiding me over.

Ladies, gentlemen, boths and neithers, I give you:

Title: In Plain Sight

Rating: Rated T/Teen and Up for some evil intent, a bit of blood, and of course some good old fashioned fisticuffs.

An old friend needs some legal representation from Nelson and Murdock, but perhaps the others in the case are the ones you need to watch. Set after season 1, so contains spoilery references. Episodicly canontastic. I don’t do slash and you can’t make me. That’s just who I am.

I do not own Daredevil or any of the characters. I DO NOT condone violence in any form. This is all for fun, not for profit. Unless you add me to any favourites lists or leave comments. Then I profit in the knowledge that someone thinks it’s pretty good.

Characters: Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Karen Page, an OC or few and Claire Temple. Bad guys, alley ways, some bodily damage and hurt/comfort.

Linky-link-link: HERE at An Archive of Our Own under my name TozaBoma (because they don’t re-edit your stuff later) and HERE at Fanfiction dot net under my name Mardy Lass.

If you even visit the page, I thank you.

What's in a name?

Apparently, if you’re an author trying to get a book published, everything. And I’m not talking about the title of your book. Wait, back up - we need context

Once upon a time, when my age was in single figures and life was much simpler, I wrote stories. Made-up, convoluted, sheerly-for-fun stories. When I was nine years old, I wrote my first fan fiction (although I’m not sure that word had yet been invented). It featured Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson and Mrs Hudson, and it bore witness to Mr Holmes bemoaning the lack of a case or in fact anything of interest to a visiting Watson. What it taught me was that (1) it wasn’t necessarily Holmes who was bored of life, and (2) I loved doing it. However, it would be a full five or six years before I would have access to something called a word processor, manufactured by the Raytheon Corporation, and I began making up my own stories in earnest.

A lot of things came next. Eventually I ended up living overseas, and had finally (through either luck or unconscious planning) secured myself a flat for one. I had come from a large family and the tenancy of a near-empty flat with no-one in it but myself was pure magic. I knew very few people and I liked it that way; I threw myself into writing in my spare time.

However, while I was typing away on what today would be considered an antique Sony Vaio laptop, I was conscious that my own stories were vapid, meandering, and definitely lacking in anything that might be called ‘plot’ even if you squinted a bit and tilted your head when studying them - but that was ok. After all, I was just writing for fun, for myself. No-one ever saw my output.

It came to be that a good friend of mine shared a love of good old-fashioned telly from old Blighty, and so we purchased a boxed set of Sharpe and got watching, beers on hand.

We went through the entire box. And in 2006, I wrote no less than four separate Sharpe stories - or fan fiction. These were published on a website I ran, and then later on, were added to the FanFiction archive. I received reviews. I read them. I read them again. And then I realised just how poor my writing was.

There was absolutely no doubt about the plots; they whisked along and questions were answered, puzzles were solved, some people died and some people were saved, and the story went pretty much the way of every episode in the telly series. No, what was poor was my actual writing. The language, the execution, the (mis)use of format - the basics that made it easy to read. But did I give up? Fuck, no. I kept right on writing and learning. Next came Doctor bloody Who and a total of eleven stories, plus two crossovers. I could see the improvement, and I could appreciate the constructive criticism that came with them all. I was very grateful people were bothering to read my work at all, and I made every effort to make every page of every story - every paragraph - the best that I could.

Round about December of 2007 I switched fandoms. I didn’t turn my back on Doctor Who, but I was running woefully short of things I could put the Doctor through. And so my new virtual voodoo dolls for torture became the brothers Winchester, of Supernatural fame. This time it was a case of fifty-one stories plus four crossovers - and I’m not sure I’m done with them yet. It also heralded my first script, my first semi-lucid experiment in abstract word art, my first out-and-out comedy farce, my first poem-like satire, the development of the ‘Sam rolled his eyes’ game, and some great feats of stretching in terms of actual writing skill and execution. In short, I loved it and some of those stories are still by far the best work I’ve done.

There were other stories, too, though. A brief bit of fun with an A-Team story, two Farscape stories, and even an Enterprise story (although that last one still makes me cringe, and every time I see it’s still there I want to delete it). A quick go with Burn Notice (which I still like myself), and then two Avengers stories (focusing exclusively on Hawkeye and Black Widow being badasses). Then came new obsessions, and a crossover between Supernatural and Constantine was as timely as it was fun. The most recent piece was a solo Constantine story, and I’m still very fond of that one.

I did bemoan in an earlier post the state of my current writing skill level. I was whining about how I thought the magic had all gone, that my stories now were flat, boring, dull and pretty much worthless. That I could see the ending a mile off, which meant any reader would too, and it was a monumental waste of my time to produce more stories when, looking back, I had written such exciting and well-executed pieces that felt like they worked on several levels at once. When I re-read parts of some of these, I’m reminded of how good I was, whilst riding the high of enthusiasm and fun.

So here’s where we are: one million, three hundred and twenty-seven thousand and six hundred words (give or take fifty) in nine years. Plus the eight books I have written, coming to around one million, three hundred and forty-nine thousand and two hundred words in themselves - and that was over the same time span. That means that, on average, I’ve written nearly three hundred thousand words a year for nine years. That’s just over eight hundred words a day - every single day.

Put like that, I seem like quite the writer.

What of these eight books I’ve written? Where can you find them online or at a bookshop? You can’t. I’ve been trying on and off for the past four years to get the first of the sci-fi books published, and lately the stand-alone high-concept novel taken by an agent. As previously discussed, I’ve gone from getting very nicely-worded and appreciated rejection letters to being completely ignored by agents altogether. This is after I’ve taken advice from a book doctor, an agent herself, two books written by agents on how to get them, and countless blogs and online articles written by agents. All the submissions were to agents who said they were looking for the type of writing I thought I was pretty good at, and all of them were sent my work exclusively, one at a time. I was beginning to think that it wasn’t them but me - that I was completely shit and the old net myth of fan fiction writers being legends in their own minds was true (especially after certain arguably poorly-written ‘yummy mummy’ semi-porn novels have been published since with great fanfare). In short, it dawned on me that perhaps my work was simply badly written, and it was being turned down or just blatantly ignored due to its crappiness, not because of anything I had or hadn’t done in the submission process.

And then I saw an article that popped up on my tumblr dash. Someone else, a woman who had been successfully published herself, had shared a news story she had read. I read it too. And then I got angry and not only reblogged it, but then debated what to do about it as it pertained to me.

Female Novelist Learns How Far a Male Pen Name Can Take Her, an article over at the Mary Sue, left me stunned. (Short version: she submitted under a fake man’s name and got instant replies and even - GASP - taken up on her book. Repeatedly.) I was shocked, and I was angry. Why shocked? I had a sneaking feeling that this kind of thing still went on, but until I saw actual figures, I was reluctant to put much stock in it. Angry? I was all shades of raging. Why should anyone have to change their name to even get looked at? Why should someone’s identity make a difference?

Certainly, parts of the article made me wonder if this was the reason I was getting ignored by agents. But it couldn’t be, could it? How could an agent, who specifically stated they were looking for debut female writers, fail to even read something by a debut female writer? It’s not like I sent my novel to someone who only took in non-fiction about gardening. I bothered to check each agent’s website, I bothered to check if they would be interested in my kind of writing. I mean there’s optimism and then there’s just stupidity.

I did what any other English woman would have done after having read the article; I made a cup of tea. As I was waiting for it to cool sufficiently for me to drink, a lot of shouting went through my head. Should I change my name the next time I send my novel out? Should I take on a man’s name to get my novel read? Should I just keep to using my first initial only, and keep hoping for the best? And then the other side of the coin hit me: wait - why should I? I shouldn’t have to hide my identity to get ahead. I shouldn’t have to invent a Remington Steele just so someone would read my words. None of this was reasonable. And yet I was contemplating it anyway.

Because the Laura Holt part of me was thinking it through. What if I did send it away under a man’s name? And what if they did write back asking for the entire novel to read? And what if, after that, they wanted to offer me representation? Well then the jig would be up, surely. There would be a face-to-face meeting and they would instantly discover that I am not the Remington Steele they were expecting.
But then the Alan Shore part of me shouts “A-haa! It’s not for me to justify why I had to use a man’s name to get read - it’s up to them to justify why, when meeting me, they are disappointed that I’m not a man!

The Spock part of me spots flaws in this logic. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to send it to an agent under only a man’s name, and then get all high and mighty when they do read and ask for more of the novel. Mainly because they never saw it under my actual name, so I have just assumed they wouldn’t even read it under my own name and skipped the part that would have made it fair. Then again, you can’t send it to them twice. This precludes any kind of fair chance and goes straight for the 50/50 chance of being read, instead of the 1/50.

And again, put that way, am I really going to be so stubborn that I refuse to improve my odds of getting read? That in just calling myself Bob or Dave or Richard instead of my first initial would give me a one-in-two chance of getting read?
But that’s not the real question at all. What it comes down to is this: does using a pen name to ‘fool’ agents into reading your work count as lying? Are you tricking someone into reading something, making their unconscious prejudices work for you? And if you are, does that constitute a lie, or a con, on your part? Or a self-inflicted wound to their reputation? Are you helping to perpetuate these prejudices by using them to aid yourself?

And that last paragraph, ladies, gentlemen, both and neithers, is where I come to a full stop. Using the system to my advantage only keeps the system in place; not using it means I never accomplish what I want, and what I have wanted, since I was nine years old. I morally can’t do one, and I physically can’t do the other. It comes down to how much of me cares about changing the system for others. How much do I want to stick it to The Man? And do I want it more than my book(s) published?

One thing is for certain: I’m going to need more tea.